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Naturally you would expect that a graphic designer is proficient in logo, print and web graphics, but what else do clients commonly request? (Web, email, motion graphics, 3D animation etc...)

I've heard a few times over my graphics/design career that it is better to be an expert at a couple of things, rather than a "Jack of all trades, master of none". Is this true in the freelance graphic design world? How do you handle requests that fall outside your normal scope?

If you decide to expand your skill-set and take on that work, do you promote it at risk of appearing less focused or "expert" at your other work?

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4 Answers 4

List of requests I've had and completed:

Print

  • Brochures, Business Cards, Logos, Manuals, Books, Sales Digests, Mag-a-logs, Invitations, Postcards, Vehicle Wraps, Billboards, Hang Tags, Packaging, T-shirts, Annual Reports / Sales Reports, Advertisements for publications, Letters, Fliers, Posters, Labels, Pens, Mugs, Post-its, Envelopes, Buttons, Lanyards, Menus, Signs... (I'm sure there's more but I can't think of them now).

Web

  • Full sites, Skinning CMS systems, HTML Email, Landing Pages, "Squeeze" sites, Buttons (and any other random graphic for a site), Integrate existing audio, Integrate existing video, CSS templates, PHP form processing, PDFs for download

Other

  • Cartoon-style Illustration, Technical Illustration, Product Illustration, Vector conversion of logos and maps, Vector Portraits, Caricatures, Photo restoration, Photo retouching/color correction, Murals, Commissioned lithographs, DVD Menus, t-shirt sublimation, laser engraving/etching, traditional engraving.

Most of the above items are relatively close to some degree. All the print stuff uses the same skill set, as does the web stuff. Technical specifications are merely altered for the particular project. That's the key to versatility.

Once you understand the technical side of print design, everything for print adheres to the same standards.

Web is a bit more difficult because of the ever-changing nature. So you have to continually keep learning and growing when creating web content. If a client approaches me with a specific aspect, such as using the some web service API in some way I've never done. I tell them right away I'm going to have to learn how to do that if I think I can. Otherwise I simply tell them that I don't currently have the time to dedicate to learning XXXX's API.


List of things which have been requested and I declined:

  • Anything with Flash and / or Shockwave
  • Most Animation (other than simple gifs)
  • Video editing (Beyond cropping and sizing)
  • Audio editing

I'm not a "motion" guy so animation video audio are not within my skill set in any way. Could I fake it? Absolutely. but I'd rather have a reputation for doing things well than just getting by.

  • Complex web applications
  • Facebook/MySpace pages
  • Complex back-end alterations to web sites such as modifying Drupal or altering a custom built ASP web application

I can edit most back-end content, but I don't like to. It's no fun. So I'd rather simply not do it. In addition, I'm not a CIS major or a developer with a degree in Computer Science so many times, I don't have the skill set to work on very complex web applications. I will easily alter front-end stuff, but I decline many back-end projects.

  • Product training (seminars/workshops)
  • Authoring a book
  • Authoring a sales course

Once you become a trainer/author then that's what you do. I'm not willing to forego designing and illustration simply to train others. I wrote an on-going series of articles over a year for a now-defunct publication and that was enough to teach myself that I'm not the guy to be spending my days training others or writing about training. Funny thing, the SE sites are good for a drive by answer and I think that's why I visit this site and a couple others. I enjoy helping and answering direct questions. It keeps my skills sharp. But when faced with a deadline and a word count to meet, the joy evaporates for me. It may not for you.

  • Apparel design - Just not "me".
  • Personally objectionable materials. This is more about me and my beliefs. If I would be ashamed to admit I've designed something for a particular product or client, then I won't do the work. For example: I'd never do any work for the KKK regardless of the paycheck or how badly I may need it.
  • 3D modeling - I simply don't know the software.

Essentially, I decline any work which I am not at least 80% confident I can complete in a timely manner without issues. Or, things I just don't want to do.


I am always immediately forthcoming with clients when asked to do something which is out of my comfort zone. I'm the first to speak up and say "That's really out of my skill set and I wouldn't feel comfortable completing that project." Or "Sorry, I simply don't have the skills required to complete that project at the level I feel you deserve." Clients respect you saying "I don't do that." far more than you delivering a sub-standard product.

You really don't need to be a "Jack of all Trades." You can stick to one particular skills set and be a beast when it comes to those requests. You'll get work if you're good. And you'll be happier doing it in my experience. Spreading yourself too thin just causes stress. I may have a wide skill set but that's been generated over a steady career. I've been very, very, very lucky.

If I decide to learn something new. I will. But I do it on my time when I want. And I don't take on work or promote that new skill until I'm confident I can complete most projects given to me which may require that skill set. There is always a period of real-world learning which takes place and I traditionally will lose money on those first few projects requiring a new skill set because I'll need more time to train myself. So, I schedule them with this in mind. I'll take one of these types of projects during slow print cycles in most cases. Print work tends to have 3 or 4 peak seasons a year and the off-months allow for more time. Then as I feel more confident I will expand the scheduling allowed for those projects.

There are times when I tell a client "I don't know how to do that." and they want me to learn how. At that point it becomes my choice. The client is willing to wait or slow delivery for me to learn, but I have to determine if first, I WANT to learn whatever it is. Second, how quickly I think I may be able to learn. And lastly, if I'm willing to devote the time needed to learn it. In some cases I do. In other cases the answer is no. So I stand firm that I can't complete that task for the client. In the end, it's my time and my business, just because a client wants something does not ultimately mean it will benefit me or my business by knowing that particular skill.

Wow, this turned into a much longer answer than I anticipated.

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"Authoring a book" -The irony! ;) –  JohnB May 23 '13 at 19:04
    
good answer +1 sir –  Matt May 23 '13 at 19:04
    
@JohnB Ain't it though :) –  Scott May 23 '13 at 19:05
    
@Scott Thanks for the detailed answer. It also offers quite a comprehensive breakdown of graphic design tasks which is great reference. I'm in a similar boat as you with a wide skill-set (I do all of the things I mentioned in my question). I think it is my strongest asset, despite the "master of none" stigma. I'd like to think that as long as your work is high enough quality, being diverse is a good thing. I am however contemplating downsizing my scope, at least for client work, (I also have a day job) which is part of the motivation to my question. –  John May 23 '13 at 20:25
    
If I had a day job, I'd focus on only the things I LOVE doing. Why waste free time with the projects you'd rather not get into :) Nothing wrong with only taking on specific skill set projects. You can easily tell clients "sorry I'm booked solid for that type of work." –  Scott May 23 '13 at 20:29
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great answer from Scott but I would like to add you shouldn't try to be a jack of all and if a client does request something out of your level tell them but also go the extra mile and find someone who can which will help you in the future by:

  1. increasing your network
  2. giving you a chance to work with others and this is something that every designer should learn.
  3. increases your output time.

As stated by Scott

Once you understand the technical side of print design, everything for print adheres to the same standards.

does fall true.

It would help to learn how other aspects of design are done. By doing this it will help with your execution. Example:

You may be really good in print design but have no clue how to design for the web or execute a website. However, can't you design the logo, make a wireframe, and provide the color palette?

One of my goals this year is to not try and do everything because it is overwhelming but network more and task out more to help grow.

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I agree that collaboration and networking are imperative, especially when starting. –  Scott May 23 '13 at 19:21
    
I too agree about the technical side of print statement. I'd assume that everything image based or '2D' that isn't animated or code driven is pretty interchangeable. I had everything outside of PS, AI and ID in mind, as they seem to be the big 3 must-know software for graphic design. –  John May 23 '13 at 19:35
1  
There's really not much outside those three apps other than video and 3D. It's merely how you utilize those 3 apps. –  Scott May 23 '13 at 19:44
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but what else do clients commonly request?

Nearly anything and everything related to marketing, branding, communications etc. From Trade Show booths to iPhone apps to Billboards to Magazines. It's a huge range.

I've heard a few times over my graphics/design career that it is better to be an expert at a couple of things, rather than a "Jack of all trades, master of none".

I think they're both valid ways to pursue a career.

How do you handle requests that fall outside your normal scope?

Team up with people that have those skills.

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Never say no

That's my philosophy anyway. As long as the job is ethically in line with your values, find a way to do it. That doesn't mean that you do it. I keep a short list of other designers, developers, copy writers, photographers, animators, video producers ... you name it, I'll find someone who can do it.

Never stop networking

The more people you meet, the more likely you are to find really great collaborators. A lot of freelancers/consultants are in the same boat as you. They might need your help as much as you need theirs.

I also like to stay connected with colleges and universities. A good institution is going to have students and grads on tap that know the latest tech and are eager to get to work. They can expand your output on the cheap. Help them start collecting checks, provide a little mentoring, and you may just end up with a long term collaborator.

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